Ad Tech Is Inherently Opaque. But You Down With Translucency? (Yeah, You Know Me.)

Marc Goldberg, CRO, Method Media Intelligence

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Marc Goldberg, CRO at Method Media Intelligence.

In late 2021, the ID Comms Global Transparency Report 2021 found that concern about digital is the top transparency issue for advertisers.

Just over three quarters (76%) of advertisers are not confident or satisfied with current levels of transparency in the digital supply chain. 

Playing devil’s advocate, what supply chain is truly and fully transparent? Do you know how much a farmer or trucking company would have charged before you ate what they grew and delivered to you? 

Ad tech is inherently opaque. You always need to brush off the first – and second – layer of dirt to see what’s under the hood. Welcome to digital advertising! It doesn’t have to be this way, but most advertisers don’t put in the work or pick the right vendor, leaving them to live in a murky world.

If this sounds challenging to navigate, the good news is that it can be straightforward if you know the right steps to take. It comes down to knowing what to look for (and often what to look out for) and what questions to ask your vendor. Knowing where you want to go is one thing, but getting there requires an understanding of the landscape ahead of you.

Ultimately, your vendor should be providing you with a GPS, not a compass.

Rather than transparency, let’s pursue a state of translucence, where at least some light is getting in. And here’s some good news: Your journey comes with its own soundtrack.

Like Jay-Z said, “You can’t heal what you never reveal.”

Opaque is the standard operating condition for most marketers, and yet in their pursuit of total transparency, they ignore translucence as a middle stage. But don’t let good be the enemy of perfect.

You might not be able to see everything, but you need to see enough to one, get an idea of what is going on and, two, be able to act on it. You hear a lot about log files and reporting as being a part of the transparency process. But are you getting your log files? If so, are you even looking at them?

And which log files are you looking at? Thirty-five percent of advertisers surveyed by ID Comms said that a “lack of access to platforms, data visibility and granular reports” is a major roadblock to achieving better transparency.

Well, to that 35%, I have this recommendation: Ask and demand access; you need it. 

Like Big Daddy Kane said, “Ain’t no half steppin.”

When you get access, the first step to transparency is to compare reporting. Make sure you have your verification, DSP, agency bill and your ad server numbers available.

If you’re not able to get it all, push your vendors, because everything in that list should be available to you.

Next, look at domain and volume reports, and check to see if you’re consistently being billed across all of them. Just check out the top 100. If they’re not all the same, find out what is causing the discrepancy, then dig into it with your partners to understand.

Like Nas said, “Sleep is the cousin of death.”

You must realize that even though your buys are done at a distance, you can have the ability to get granular and do your own diligence to see what you are buying and where you might be buying.

Another simple exercise to help with transparency: Sort your ad server log files by volume. Do you recognize all the sites listed? Don’t stop at the surface-level visit and navigate these sites.

Like André 3000 said, “Roses really smell like poo-poo-ooh.”

In a recent review of data with a client, we found a site that was under 5% viewability. But when you looked closer, it was a “video site” with banners that were rotating below the fold as the video played. It was human, it was brand safe – but it was not viewable. On the flip side, if the viewability is off the charts, question it. If it’s too good to be true, maybe just visit the site and see for yourself.

Dig in with the full URL. This is not to say that something bad is happening when viewability is too high, but if you already have concerns, put in the work.

Like KRS-One said, “Listen, I’m not dissing, but there’s something that you’re missing.”

Here’s another big problem to look out for. As you were looking at that domain list, you will notice some ad serving domains like ib.adnxs.com, xyz.googlesyndication.net, xyz.googleadservices.com, etcetera.

Back in the day, an ad network was a threat to a direct sales force. A decision was made that big publishers could put inventory into an exchange, but it wouldn’t be transparent to a buyer trying to circumvent the sales force. This has created a back door for a lot of bad things. When you see these ad serving domains listed, you can’t determine the origin of the inventory.

Most of the time, it’s not going to be a reputable publisher hiding their inventory, but rather a shady publisher trying to hide from you.

Like Rakim said, “By any means necessary, this is what has to be done.”

What are they hiding? You put domains on exclusion lists for high invalid traffic, low viewability and brand safety and suitability infractions. But ad serving domains just invite all that junk back in.  

So here’s an easy thing you can do, although it’s a step some don’t like to take. Remove ad serving domains from your buys.

“What? I’m removing scale!!!” buyers will wave their arms and scream.  

Buyers, put those arms down, place your hands on the controls and exclude ad serving domains from your buy. This will help you, your boss and your boss’s boss get more comfortable in this “murky” channel in the long run, because by excluding ad serving domains, you are reducing opaqueness.

Like Inspectah Deck explains, “Working hard may help you maintain, to learn to overcome the heartaches and pain.”

A state of full transparency may seem like a lofty goal for ad tech, but with good practices, you can make it translucent.

Having translucency might not clarify all the details, but you can see enough. Use judgment and diligence in this channel, and you will be able to make a difference while on the road to your intended destination.

Follow Marc Goldberg (@MarcJGoldberg) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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